Tony Cartagena covers the Wisconsin Badgers for ESPN Wisconsin
MADISON, Wisc. – When your state is notorious for being frozen nine months out of the year, it’s tough to gain national notoriety as a hotspot for golf.
PGA pro Steve Stricker is changing the Wisconsin narrative. For today and tomorrow.
During a recent event with The First Tee of South Central Wisconsin, weather, of course, dampened plans for a Stricker led demonstration. However, that didn’t stop the 12-time PGA tournament event champion. He interacted, posed for photos and signed autographs for children, fans, future PGA pros and sponsors of the First Tee at Cherokee Country Club.
Stricker gave a speech that engaged the audience in numerous ways. Silence while the audience listened intently to hear his story. Loud with laughter when he’d poke fun at an event, occurrence or himself.
The mission of The First Tee of South Central Wisconsin is to impact the lives of young people and their families by providing educational programs for youth that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.
In addition to raising funds for Madison’s youth golfers, Stricker is also helping fans get excited about upcoming golf events in Wisconsin. And, golf in general.
For two consecutive weeks in June, Wisconsin will be at the epicenter of the golf universe.
The 117th U.S Open tees off at Erin Hills on June 12.
“Wisconsin, the way they’ve supported other tournaments and other majors that have been here, I think it’s going to come across very well,” Stricker said of the upcoming Major.
The U.S Open is an event Stricker still needs to qualify for. He chuckled when asked if the event taking place in Wisconsin created any added pressure for him.
“I really want to be there,” he said. “I still think I can compete at that level. And, I almost feel like the harder the better sometimes.
“I am going to give it a try and hopefully I can qualify for it and hopefully I can play.”
A native of Edgerton, WI., Stricker turned 50 this past year, which officially makes him eligible to play on the PGA Champions Tour. Which brings him back to Wisconsin for the Am Fam Championship at U-Ridge, starting June 19th.
Last year, the inaugural tournament brought a celebrity foursome of former Green Bay Packers’ Mark Tauscher and Brett Favre, playing alongside Andy North and Stricker.
This year the attraction continues to grow. Including a concert.
“We’re excited to be (host the tournament) again,” Stricker added. “We have Darius Rucker Friday Night during the tournament week. He’s going to be playing on Saturday. We’re adding a music element to it. A lot of good and fun things for the community.”
Rucker’s concert is scheduled for June 23rd at Breese Stevens Field.
During the concluding press conference of last year’s tournament, American Family Insurance Chairman and CEO Jack Salzwedel told media members that he and Stricker were advised to keep expectations low, and it was ambitious to consider raising more than $500,000 the first time around.
When the numbers were released in December, over $1 million was donated to local charities. Including $589,500 to the American Family Insurance Children’s Hospital and portions to The First Tee.